Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Woman in bed awake

Sleep, Sleep Medicine and Stress. Part 7

by James Porter March 26, 2021

This is seventh of a eight-part series on stress and sleep. If you’ve had difficulty sleeping during the pandemic, you are not alone. Insomnia was already reaching epidemic proportions BEFORE Covid. Now it’s gotten worse. According to a survey published in Consumer Reports 28% of Americans reported having trouble falling or staying asleep since the Pandemic hit.

Ten things you can do to get a better night’s sleep

As we have discussed in earlier installments lack of sleep can adversely affect your health in many ways: It can cause forgetfulness, poor judgment (particularly about your need for sleep) and increase the odds of you experiencing weight gain, depression, and having an accident (particularly a potentially deadly car accident). In fact, just last week the National Sleep Foundation warned drivers to drive very carefully all week because of the change to Daylight Savings Time would increase your odds of having a fatal car accident.

We covered the first five things to get a better night’s sleep in the last installment which you can read here.

  1. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day.
  2. Meditate
  3. Track your sleep
  4. Watch your diet
  5. Turn down the temperature

Here is this week’s list of five more things you can do to get a better night’s sleep:

6. Block out the light

Melatonin levels (a sleep hormone that naturally occurs in the body) increase as light levels decrease: In the evening they are highest and in the morning they are the lowest. This may be why we are sleeping less and less (by about two hours a night) since the introduction of electric lights at the turn of the 20th century. So, if there is light coming in your bedroom from outside at night, or you want to sleep later in the morning, you definitely want to get black out curtains that really block the light.

7. Eat dinner 3 hours or more before bedtime

If acid reflux keeps you up in the middle of the night, but doesn’t bother you during the day, you may be able to solve that problem by simply eating dinner at least three hours before bedtime. If you don’t follow this advice, food will sit in your esophagus after lying down and it tends to creep back up, and pass through the sphincter muscle (yes there is a sphincter muscle at both ends of your digestive system) that keeps what is already in your digestive system from coming back up causing you to feel the pain of acid reflux, AKA heartburn. Eating earlier can solve this problem. In addition to eating too close to bedtime there are a whole list of heartburn triggers including eating spicy foods, caffeinated beverages, greasy foods, acidic foods and/or overeating in general.

8. Make a to-do list

Sometimes the minute I turn out the light I start to think of all things I have to do the next day. But if I make a list at the end of my workday, this little bit of advanced planning not only provides a nice boundary to my work day, it also keeps most of those errant thoughts out of my mind when I turn out the light. I confidently know, as I lay my head on the pillow, that everything I have to do is already written down and I don’t have to worry about forgetting them as I’m falling asleep.

9. Don’t read the or watch the news before bed.

Remember the news is designed to stress you out. That’s how it gets your attention. Good news is boring and doesn’t draw in many viewers and that’s why the news is ALWAYS bad. Carefully consider striking the news feed from the home pages of your smart phone. Make it difficult to search for news if you find yourself absorbed in it a little too often.  If you realize that you are a news-junkie this may be a hard habit to break. On election day four years ago, I made the mistake of checking my news feed just as I was falling asleep around 9 PM: I was hooked into the breaking news that Trump was pulling ahead of Clinton. I wound up staying awake ALL NIGHT because Clinton didn’t concede until the early hours of the next morning. By that time, I had a scratchy throat and by the next night I had a cough and by the next morning I had a bad cold that eventually developed into bronchitis. It took two rounds of antibiotics to finally knock it out. All because I decided to check my news feed just as I was falling asleep.

10. Only use the bedroom for one thing.

(Well really two things.) Since the Pandemic began this advice has become almost impossible to follow. 45% of people (according to a survey published in Consumer Reports) use their bedroom for at least one other thing besides the two things mentioned above. These optional uses for a bedroom range from having a home office, to using the bedroom as an exercise room to using it as a classroom for remote learning. In order to be realistic about the need to maximize every room in your home during the pandemic experts advise that you simply hide as many signs of these other uses, by storing for example, your laptop, your exercise equipment your children’s school supplies in drawers or under the bed, or where ever they can be kept out of sight and more importantly out of mind. Think about not bringing your phone to bed with you. Screen time as you get in bed, may be affecting your melatonin levels adversely. 

Jim's Fitbit Sleep Report

Since starting this sleep blog about a month ago, I’ve been doing just about all the things you see   suggested above and in the previous blog. And my   sleep is definitely improving. Here’s my latest sleep   log from the Fitbit app that appears on my phone.

In the next and final installment I’ll share with you some of my personal observations, that you won’t find in any other resources about sleep. I’ve been studying this informally for quite a while now and I’ve come up with my own unique set of conclusions and observations.

James Porter
James Porter